Michael Carleton, playwright of Every Christmas Story Ever Told...and then some!

Michael Carleton, playwright of Every Christmas Story Ever Told…and then some!

 

Tell us a little bit about yourself. What’s your story?Hmmm…my story?  Uh, theatre geek from way back.  Morphed from acting, to directing, to writing, with random forays into producing.  I was Artistic Director for a couple of theatres over the years (Cape May Stage, Baltimore Shakespeare Festival).  Realized I was never happier than when working on, or creating new works, so it’s been a goodly mix of classics and new plays.  The focus is on writing at the moment, as my family has relocated to the south of France, and it’s fun to sit in a café, drink brain-peelingly strong coffee (or absinthe), pretend to be Hemingway, and call it “work’.  Currently working on a play about wine (the research is fun) and working with a theatre in Paris on a French translation of a play of mine about Anaïs Nin, The Delta of Anaïs.

What inspired you, James FitzGerald, John Alvarez to write the play?
When I was AD at Cape May Stage, we were informed late in the season that we couldn’t get the rights to the Christmas Show I had intended for the Holiday slot, so we had to write something ourselves at the last minute.  We had about three weeks, and were literally rehearsing the newest final bits as the audience was queuing out front of the theatre.  If I recall correctly, “Every Christmas Carol Ever Sung” was written the night before opening over several six-packs.  At the time it was simply a show we needed for ourselves and we’ve been kind of surprised (and pleased) that other theatres have made it part of their lineups.

What is your personal favorite BHC, and why?
Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales contains some of the most beautiful language: “Years and years ago, when I was a boy, when there were wolves in Wales, and birds the color of red-flannel petticoats whisked past the harp-shaped hills…”  It’s just so lovely and evocative, so full of nostalgia, and longing, and hope.  So…that, and I do have grand memories of every year, until well into my 40’s, gathering at my family’s home, and sitting on the floor ‘round my mother as she read The Night Before Christmas on…well, the night before Christmas.  Over the years the drinks shifted from hot cocoa, to wine, to smoky single-malts, but the warmth carried through.

Grace Bauer, Ian Kramer, and James Noel Hoban in Every Christmas Story Ever Told. Photo by Jon Reece.

Grace Bauer, Ian Kramer, and James Noel Hoban in Every Christmas Story Ever Told. Photo by Jon Reece.

That first year, after the blitzkrieg writing session, just working and throwing any bit we thought might work up, and doing it all so fast without any feedback, seriously choreographing the final song as people were in line outside….we weren’t sure that it was even funny.  We didn’t know if the jokes and the fun at the heart of the piece would be successful.  So that very first curtain call, when the response was tremendous, and we realized we had maybe created something good…that was nice.  And now seeing it being done around the country, and in a few other countries, and all the great new stuff that each company brings to it.

Ian Kramer, James Noel Hoban, and Grace Bauer. Photo by Jon Reece.

Ian Kramer, James Noel Hoban, and Grace Bauer. Photo by Jon Reece.

What did audiences appreciate most from the show?
It’s a silly headlong rush through a lot of memories, and in the end, yeah there are some funny jokes, but I think its real value is reminding everyone of so much that they’d forgotten about Christmases past.  Half of the humor in the piece comes from simply, basically saying, “Hey, do you remember this?”  There was some review of an early production that phrased it something like, “…it accomplishes the small miracle of making all Christmas myths and traditions seem ridiculous, and absolutely essential.”  I like that.

Is there one holiday classic, tradition, or moment you wish you could put in the play?
I’ve personally worked on about six productions of ECSET (our acronym), and each time we try to update it and add in anything we might have forgotten in past iterations, so it has grown and stretched over the years, trying to, hoping to reflect the changing times.  We’ve swapped out countries, added in audience suggestions, addressed topical issues, and incorporated newer ‘classics’, or made fun of things that were trying to be classics, but at its core it’s about what we all do around the holidays, which is to gather together and share a few moments.  And make jokes about fruitcake.

 

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